Erev Yom Hakippurim, 5767.
My Netanya neighbor Livia Bitton Jackson wrote in her Holocaust memoirs, I Have Lived a Thousand Years and Elli: Coming of Age in the Holocaust that she forced herself and her mother to eat soup crawling with maggots, in order keep from perishing from starvation. Another neighbor Frank Ross sucked on coal because the oil kept hunger pangs at bay. A hungry Edith Cohen chewed on a chicken skin for 4 days without food in a cattle car on the way from Hungary to a Auschwitz. So for them, a simple 25-hour fast on Yom Kippur is…. a piece of cake. Child’s play.
I wrote about this in an article that the Jerusalem Post published in the opinion section of its Friday weekend Magazine Sept.29: Survivors’ Yom Kippur: September 1945.
But while the first postwar Yom Kippur was not difficult gastronomically for survivors, it was painful emotionally. Holidays mean family, and most survivors, generally adolescents and twenty- and thirtysomethings who could withstand the tortures that felled the very young and the very old, were on their own.
The adolescent Edith Cohen was undaunted by the looming fast, having become an old hand at living with a growling stomach. But she was in turmoil because her parents and four siblings had been murdered in the camps, and she had no one to give her the traditional holiday blessing.
If you look in the Yom Kippur mahzor you notice that in addition to the usual Friday night blessing by parents of children, there is an additional blessing for this special night. Orphaned Edith Cohen had no one to bless her in the Feldafing DP camp in 1945. She knocked on the door of Rabbi Yekutiel Halberstam, the Sanz-Klausenberg Rebbe, who had thrown himself into rehabilitation of survivors in the DP camps, having no time to mourn his own loss of wife and eleven children. Edith pleaded to the Rebbe:
“My parents died in the camps. I have no one to bless me.” He graciously complied, put a handkerchief over her hair, placed his hands on her head and blessed her.
The details of that Yom Kippur in the DP camp I describe in my Post article. What I found when researching it was that ……Gen. Eisenhower visited the camp that same Yom Kippur. You can read his reports,letters and photos about his inspections of the concentration camps when he liberated them (see Eisenhower in the center) and on the DP camps in his website archives.
You can see the photos of Generals Eisenhower and Patton visiting the DP camp at Feldafind n September 17, 1945, Yom Kippur, on the US Holocaust Memorial Museum website
On Yom Kippur 1945 Eisenhower also knocked at the Klausenberger’s door but…..
… the Rebbe would not speak with him until he had finished his prayers. Afterwards the Rebbe explained: ‘I was praying before the General of Generals, the King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be He. The earthly general had to wait.’
What struck me most in researching the DP camps was the effort that the Klausenberger Rebbe expended on rehabilitating the girls, something highly unusual for a chassidic rebbe. This was pointed out by one of Israel’s leading Holocaust researchers, Esther Farbstein (academician, and wife of Hevron’s Rosh Yeshiva) who wrote in her book B’Seter Raam, (soon to be published in English as Hidden in Thunder: Perspectives on Faith and Leadership During the Holocaust)
“In particular, he assumed responsibility for finding them suitable husbands. His attitude toward them was so fatherly and personal that some people regarded his educational work with the girls as the pinnacle of his activity.”
Next fall I will write about the unsual sermon the Klausenberger gave that Yom Kippur in the DP camp, as witnessed and retold by Meyer Birnbaum in his Artscroll/Mesorah memoir (written together with CC regular Yonatan Rosenblum)